Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for July 2nd, 2012

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

Posted by nliakos on July 2, 2012

by Clay Shirky (Penguin Press, 2008)

I can’t believe it took me four years to read Shirky’s seminal work about crowdsourcing, political activism using Twitter and blogs, how Wikipedia works, why traditional news media are in crisis, “Meetup,” open source projects, and more. Much of what Shirky wrote here back in 2008 is not news in 2012, but it’s still worth reading. He was already predicting that mobile devices would be the next big thing. This is one smart guy.

Shirky explains the power law curve–the visual curve that expresses a relationship where large occurrences are rare and small ones are common. He finds instances of power law everywhere. In Wikipedia, for example, the bulk of the work on an article is done by just a few very committed people, while most people contribute just one tiny edit. Working together in this way, people can create something valuable.

I was reminded of the Electronic Village Online, the free professional development sessions offered each winter by TESOL’s CALL Interest Section. In every session I have been involved in either as a participant or as a co-moderator, I have observed that there is a relatively small number of very active participants and a very large number of lurkers. I had always seen that as somehow a failure of the session to garner enough enthusiasm on the part of everybody. After reading Shirky, I have come to realize it’s natural.

A power-law curve

Shirky’s prose is lucid and his ideas come across clearly. I am now looking forward to reading his new one: Cognitive Surplus. I hope it doesn’t take me four years to get around to it.

Links to Clay Shirky’s TED talks:

  1. “Clay Shirky on Institutions vs Collaboration” (2005) This talk serves as an introduction to Here Comes Everybody. Shirky explains the power-law distribution at length and uses many of the same examples he does in the book.
  2. “How Social Media Can Make History” (2009) Given the year following the publication of Here Comes Everybody, this talk also incorporates some of the ideas from the book (like social capital, “tools don’t get socially interesting until they are technologically boring”, and the 20th vs 21st century media landscape).
  3. “How Cognitive Surplus Will Change the World” (2010) This one previews the next book. It mentions Ushahidi (a tool for crisis mapping) as an example of how people volunteer their talents for the good of others. Each talk is a few minutes shorter than the previous one!
  4. “Why SOPA Is a Bad Idea” (2012) Shirky’s explanation of the fight to create without the hindrance of copyright.

Posted in Non-fiction | 1 Comment »

I Had Seen Castles

Posted by nliakos on July 2, 2012

by Cynthia Rylant (Harcourt Brace, 1993)

This is such a tiny book–11 cm x 18 cm and fewer than 100 pages–I almost missed it on the reserve shelf at the library. The narrator, John Dante, reminisces about his first love and his experience fighting in Europe during World War II.  Barely 18, he enlists in the Army despite his girlfriend’s pacifism. It is only much later that he appreciates her wisdom.

It’s a simple story, told simply, about how war changes people’s lives. The language is not complicated, and the book’s brevity make it an achievable read for English language learners (at least advanced intermediate).

Posted in Fiction, Recommended for ESL or EFL Learners | Leave a Comment »